New Research on the Brain
Research continues to expand our understanding of brain functions. This includes improving our knowledge of the role of different areas of the brain, such as the frontal lobes, and the differences between the two hemispheres (sides). For example, frontal lobe functioning is now implicated in many mental illnesses, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and attention deficit disorders. Furthermore, the frontal lobes are also involved in many forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body Disease, dementia secondary to Parkinson’s disease, and Frontotemporal Degeneration.
We have long understood that the left and right sides of the brain are involved in different aspects of thinking. For example, the left side (in most people) has been known to play a greater role in language, while the right hemisphere (in the majority of individuals) is involved in visual and spatial tasks. However, increasing research suggests that the right hemisphere has a role in mediating novel and unfamiliar tasks, and thus is very critical in early childhood development. In contrast, the left hemisphere is involved in very familiar and overlearned tasks, even those which involve music and other skills which have historically been thought of as a right hemisphere task.
As our knowledge and experience increases, we are in an ever greater position to help diagnose and treat the illnesses which effect brain functioning. Research and work with patients continues to support the benefit of diagnosing these diseases as early as possible. Patients are certainly encouraged to consult with appropriate mental health professionals to address questions or concerns regarding any of these issues, and certainly pursue evaluation if symptoms involving thinking and/or memory are emerging. Providing information to family members can also help people understand and cope with these problems, and assist in helping patients function well.